It might amuse you initially to see an adorable 5-year-old copying erotic hip-gyrating dance moves she saw on TV – complete with makeup, midriff-baring tops, hot pants and fishnet stockings. But this is also one of the worrying signs of how our children are being “sexualized” at a younger and younger age today.
Most girls as young as 6 are already beginning to think of themselves as sex objects, according to a new and alarming research findings by Knox College in the United States.
In this study that has hit the headlines worldwide, psychologists showed 60 elementary school girls two paper dolls: One dressed in tight and revealing “sexy” clothes. The other wearing a trendy but covered-up, loose outfit.
Each little girl was asked to choose the doll that looked like herself or how she wanted to look. And also which resembled the popular girl in school who she wanted to play with.
Surprisingly, girls chose the sexy doll most often – with 68 percent of the kiddos picking the “hottie” dolly as their ideal self, and 72 percent said she was more popular than the non-sexy “plain” doll.
More interesting are the study findings on the possible factors contributing to this disturbing trend:
#1 CHILDREN MIRROR OUR BEHAVIOUR
Many have pointed fingers at the media for sending the wrong messages by plastering glamourized images of scantily-clad, explicitly seductive stars all over young, impressionable minds. But this study revealed that how the child is influenced by pop media hinges on another crucial determining factor: Parental influence.
Researchers found that watching a lot of TV or movies alone didn’t influence girls to prefer the sexy doll. But when what they see on reel is reinforced in real-life by mothers who report self-objectifying behaviour (such as worrying about their clothes and appearance many times a day), the girls were more likely to say the sexy doll was popular.
Conversely, when parents used TV shows or movies as teaching moments, their daughters were much less likely to choose the sexy doll, thus underlining the vital part mothers play as a role model and an important protective factor against the increasing sexualized pop culture.
#2 BEWARE THE ALLURE OF THE FORBIDDEN FRUIT
In this study, the mothers’ religious beliefs also emerged as an important factor in how girls see themselves. Girls who consumed a lot of media but who had religious mothers were less prone to early self-sexualization, perhaps these moms were more likely to communicate values such as modesty.
However, young girls who were overprotected and highly restricted from the media by very religious parents were more likely to say that they wanted to look like the sex kitten!
When little girls learn early on that what matters most is how sexy they are, boys learn to look at them as sex objects. It is not difficult to see how this sets up a dynamic that can do an enormous amount of harm to forming long-term intimate relationships later. Not only does sex get speeded up (along with all its accompanying issues) like we are already observing, “Friends with Benefits” may one day become cool.
While it may seem overwhelming and embarrassing (particularly in our Asian society) at first, parents and schools are encouraged to talk to our kids about sexuality and relationships early, in an age-appropriate way. That’s likely to have incredible pay-offs, especially when our children reach their teenage years.
Instead of attempting to be the fiercely restrictive and authoritative parent “who knows best”, perhaps we should stay familiar with what they are listening to and watching, and try to maintain an open dialogue. If they feel that they can ask anything without being punished or shamed for it, they probably will.
By Michelle Wenli
Self-confessed beauty junkie, and concerned mother of a beautiful 18 month old baby girl.